The 5 Nations that (Might) Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Five years post the zombie apocalypse, countries we haven’t called countries, will be leading the ashes. For my criteria, I first tried to think about the nations, or rather regions, would have the greatest strategic advantages against a walking horde of the undead. The greatest of these were geographic. I went into greater detail on that in my answer to What would be the worst and best possible types of places to live in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse? There, I determined that if you had to be stuck anywhere, the best place to be would an island, very far removed from any floaters seeking to undo your happy existence.

After geography, I looked at overall population. A strong enough population will have to exist with which to provide crucial services after import, export systems collapse. This was followed by military capacity and the potential for armed security. This is an obvious boon to any survivors, providing the capability to stay grounded, and eventually even project outward, re-securing territory from the hordes or even rescuing survivors. After this is perhaps the most important, food security. Food and water independence will be vital to survive, even if the zombies aren’t fighting to take what you already have.

That said, I’ve intentionally ignored several extreme examples of several tiny island nations, because they are so small that they simply aren’t interesting enough to talk about. One day the radios stopped working after a big commotion and then no more ships… ever. For example, small communities like the hundreds of tiny islands surrounding the main islands of Indonesia, won’t experience any of the devastation wrought on their home islands. At best, they will see a relative explosion in refugees, but will likely be unchanged. Micronations like Tuvalu, Nauru, the Falkland Islands, or Tristan, literally the most isolated island on the planet, are just too boring to talk about. Thousands of islands exist that together don’t equal a population of more than a few million people. They have no long term significance as they will never be able to help create a world fit for humanity after the Age of the Undead. The best they may do is one day recreate the double outrigger and colonize a few more islands. 10,000 years from now, they might be able to colonize the mainland again… having completely forgotten the most historic event in the history of humanity – it’s destruction. That said, they might go completely unaffected by the calamity, but because they were so insignificant to begin with, I’m just not going to talk about places like Tristan Island anymore, but focus on places that might actually be meaningful after the apocalypse.


5) The Democratic Republic of Puerto Rico

  • Population: 3.548 million (2014)
  • Military: Reliant on US, but consists of high retired veteran population and several large facilities capable of refitting.
  • Food Security: Reliant on imports

Currently a territory of the United States, assuming the effective destruction of the continental superpower giant, Puerto Rico would no doubt seek independence with haste. Who they would declare independence to, won’t really matter, as everyone will have bigger problems than worrying about it. Surrounded by water, the island state is guarded by numerous high cliffs, which have already been fortified by a history of military significance to the Caribbean. The island nation will be able to hold it’s own from both the random zombie caught adrift, or the horde of American, Central American, and South American refugees the tiny island will likely be pushing away.

Add to this the presence of a more than 2000 acre former naval base on the island. Roosevelt Roads provides the means for the Puerto Ricans to create a last refuge for stranded American Naval vessels searching for a secure port. Given this, Puerto Rico may soon find itself the inheritor of the Atlantic fleet. Following this, the new Nation state may find itself with the power and influence to leverage strength for the imports it will soon be desperate for by becoming a leading naval power.

Where Puerto Rico fails is in production of food. The island can support much more than it is currently producing, but given it’s near future calamity… it’s going to need a lot more.

Agriculture constitutes about $808 million US$ or about 0.8% of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP). [44] However, Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food even though most of the land is fertile. Only a mere 6% is arable; a fact that poses a direct threat to Puerto Rico’s food security. [45][46]

After initial growing pains, and once resolving bids for power among the surviving islands of the Caribbean the country stands a good chance of not just surviving, but thriving in the post apocalypse new era.

4) Iceland

  • Population: 323,002
  • Military: Military consists of less than a thousand members of the Icelandic Coast Guard
  • Food Security: Wealth of agricultural surpluses

Iceland ranks low on the list for several critical lapses in its Zombie Preparedness Plan, but will able to leverage certain advantages few other nations can.

First, Iceland is a relatively barren place to live. 78% of the island is unfit for farming and agriculture, and of the rest, only about 1% is actually used. Most of this space is used for feed crops such as hey, and the rest for potato and other subsistence foods.

Militarily, the island has nothing to brag about. Geopolitically, it is centered in a part of the North Atlantic so far north that it has little strategic value to anyone. For many years, the only military presence was that of the US military, tasked with being the sole defense force for the tiny country. After 2006, the US forces left, leaving Iceland with no real projection power at all. What remains is a coast guard, consisting of around a few hundred people, juggling three ships and four aircraft.

Iceland is very far from any populated regions, like the UK and Scandinavia. Crossing the freezing waters of the North Atlantic won’t be easy for even hardy survivors, and the few ships capable of making the voyage will be few enough that the tiny Coast Guard Forces may possibly be able to manage the inflow of refugees.

The refugees, as well as their boats and planes, will serve well the underpopulated island by provided much needed labor to fill the needs they are very quickly going to have. But with every new soul, a mounting problem is going to become more evident, a theme we will see more and more, not enough food.

Iceland, however, does have something that most other nations don’t. It is capable of harnessing vast amounts of the Earth’s geothermal energy to heat its homes and provide power. This will help make up for the small national population, but also provide something few other surviving populations will have, a valuable and rare commodity resource. Five years down the line, the world is going to be desperate for power, as few means exist for coal, nuclear, and there is no where left to produce the vast manufacturing structure required to build solar and wind power, nor repair the massively complex offshore oil rigs. Iceland’s survival depends on harnessing and communicating this power, as it will provide the economic power to make Iceland one of the world’s most valuable exporters.

3) Panama

  • Population: 3.9 million
  • Military: No military, but 12,000 members of the Panamanian Public Forces
  • Food Security: Wealth of agricultural surpluses

Panama is the sole exception to the island rule of zombie survival. That is because of its incredibly unique geography. Panama, though technically forming the narrow land bridge between North and South America, is effectively an island. The thick jungle and high mountains mentioned in previous sections describe why never in history has a major land invasion involved walking troops from either North or South of Panama and into the neighboring continent. The nation is just too hostile to land traffic. This has been traditionally very bad for Panama, isolating it between impossibly large and wealthy landmasses, a wall rather than a road. Of course, one day a zombie apocalypse happens and what was once its greatest weakness, is now the nation’s greatest strength – a geography hostile to foot traffic.

For survivability, the Panamanians hold food exports as a major industry. From fish to fruit, the country will be able to care for its own with ample resources while defenders are able to hold back the few walkers at the periphery until, eventually, Panama can play a major role in reconnecting the shattered world via its famous canal.

It’s greatest weakness, however, is that the country lacks any formal military. Panama is the second country in Latin America (the other being Costa Rica) to permanently abolish standing armies. All that remains is a 12,000 strong members of the Panamanian Public Forces. This para-military group lives on standby for civil disturbances and general policing. They will be completely unequipped to handle zombies who behave much differently than a peaceful protest no one wants to turn into something bigger. If only that were all that stood between the Panamanians and the oblivion, then that wouldn’t be enough, but adding in the natural boundaries of both inhospitable jungle and impassable mountains, along with the advantage of how truly few people would be required to defend the two narrow borders, and we can begin to see why they would survive where others wouldn’t.

2) New Zealand

  • Population: 4.471 million
  • Military: 11,440
  • Food Security: Wealth of agricultural surpluses

New Zealand is a large island chain of high mountains, defensible valleys and a stable population and economy. Perhaps its greatest advantage, at least for this question, is its isolation. Though most maps place New Zealand relatively near Australia, in truth, nearly all of the Continental United States could fit between them. New Zealand is alone in void of the blue. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but zombies change things. It is so far out that it poses little risk from floating zombies drifting about, nor does it suffer a great risk of refugees overwhelming the island, some which may even be infected. Once planes stop flying, travel by boat will allow anyone showing unusual signs such as necrotizing fasciitis or spontaneous fits of cannibalism will be vetted and done away with long before reaching port in Queensland.

The active duty military is nothing to brag about, but high mountains also make for defensible terrain. Whether facing invasion from the dead or whoever else is left, a New Zealand Defense Force would have the means to hold up years fighting whatever comes from the sea.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the country has a large food surplus, taking in over 14.8 billion dollars in agricultural exports. This is the true saving grace of New Zealand. Other nations may survive the zombies, but they won’t survive the hunger. New Zealand will survive both, and in fact, may become one of the wealthiest nations on the planet very, very soon, as they supply sustenance to the rest of the world’s small island survivors deeply lacking in basic nutrition.


Noteworthy Mentions:

The Japanese State of Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the northern most island in the Japanese Island chain. While still posting a large and modern population, it is centered in with high mountains and cold winters. It is however, very distant from the more populated islands to the South, and since it is not part of the same land mass, will see refugee traffic required to pass through the whole of Japan before reaching Hokkaido. The military tradition of Japan will also see use as they defend themselves from the horde of Japan, not only of zombies, but refugees no doubt pouring over over from lower Japan, the Koreas, and even China and Southeast Asia. These refugees will serve as the greatest obstacle to Hokkaido’s Japanese sanctuary from the horde. Given the billions of people who may seek shelter there, it may be a distinct possibility that they will prove too much.

Madagascar

I’d love to say that Madagascar would do well. It has a large population, good terrain and is an island nation. There are two reason I don’t see it doing well for this question. First, one problem it faces is the same that it has in this world already. It is a poor nation with inadequate government. That means that the government isn’t quick or efficient at responding to major events. Assuming that the crowded island nation doesn’t succumb to the zombie horde itself, the other horde it will have to deal with will be coming from Mainland Africa. This will be Madagascar’s second major problem. When refugees begin flooding in from all across every part of the continent through the relatively narrow Mozambique Strait, that will be too much for the overwhelmed government. I see starvation and chaos, and that is if there are no walking dead.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a relatively modern place. It even boasts a fairly large military, relative to its small landmass. It even has land to grow crops, and supply its people. What does it have against it? If you’ve caught on to the pattern of the last two… it’s neighbor, the second most populous nation on the planet.

As well prepared as a tiny state might be, no nation on Earth will be prepared to suddenly accept the fleeing mass of a country of over 1 billion people. Whether they manage to cross the narrow and partially submerged land bridge connecting the two bodies, or through thousands of rafts floating across the sea, Sri Lanka will, in a matter of days, be inundated with millions more than the tiny island can support and more than the government can manage. In the end, I didn’t add them because of how well they would do, but how every clearly they would spell the exception to the rule of the safety of the tropical island, if everything else is stacked up against you.


Finally, the nation which will do the best following a zombie apocolypse, one of the few who may actually see an increase in power and influence in the future to come, isn’t a nation at all today, but would quickly become one once the end becomes a reality for everyone else. That nation is…

1) The Independent Hawaiian State

Population: 1.42 million (2014)

Military: Very large military population and immense US Naval assets.

Food Security: High food producer, but also heavily reliant on food inshipment.[1]

The nation of Hawaii boasts many natural barriers to a zombie plague. Surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of ocean, Hawaii’s greatest defense is the great blue barrier of the Pacific Ocean. Any zombie lucky enough to accidentally drift in the wrong direction for such a long period of time will be cursed with the ravages of coarse salt water, and months of decay as its body dissolves into the sea.

Should it be possible for Hawaii to fall victim to one of the blighted, the mountainous isles lend themselves well to defense against the undead.

In the unlikely event, the chain even has the extraordinary fortune of escape, where all or most of the survivors can quickly evacuate one island by either air or sea, both safe from zombie interruption, to a clear island not far away. This provides time for survivors to be organized, defenses to be manned, and a means for the retaking of any lost island in the chain.

The survivors of Hawaii, however, will face a different battle than most of the world. Their struggle will mostly be an effort to provide a balanced diet. The island state is a major food producer for many various staple fruits, vegetables, and meats, as well as sugar. It’s agriculture, however, is geared toward specialty items and they have to rely on imports for the difference. Early in the apocalypse, Hawaii will face the singular difficulty of having an overabundance of certain foods, while being completely lacking in other nutritional requirements. There are much worse states to be in, but the state will require some time to readjust their agriculture to a structure more geared toward food independence.

Given that, the key factor for the survival of Hawaii is its other great asset of pre-apocalypse strategic importance as an important naval installation. Hawaii bases afforded the United States Navy central staging points for seaborne operations overseeing half the planet. Following the fall of continental bases, most ships out to sea will have little else but to set sale for the last operational command in the United States Navy. Given the overwhelming strength of the US Navy today, commanding more Super Aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined, Hawaii will not only be able to survive, but be transformed into overwhelmingly powerful Pacific hegemon. Given the number of naval ships and Marines stationed on Hawaii, it will serve not only as the greatest source of internal security, but be one of the only remaining nations capable of force projection, and in time, be the leading force in reclaiming earth from the Zombie horde.

What are the Best and Worst Places to Live in a Zombie Apocalypse

I was researching for an answer to the question What would be the worst and best possible types of places to live in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse? and in my quest to figure out the places that would do the best, I wanted to think first about the places that would do the worst. My first goal was to think about the nations, or more accurately, the regions, that would offer the greatest inherent strategic advantages against a walking horde of the undead, either in slowing them down or aiding the defenders and survivors. As with military strategies, the greatest factor is always geographic. The rest of this list evaluates the most common geographic regions of the planet and their potential as either safe havens or death traps.

The first place we have to start is always the, highly urban centers.

We are just going to brush past the obvious. Ravenous monsters running down streets grabbing and biting everyone in an exponential decline of madness. Crowded cities are zombie all you can eat buffets.

Disregarding the crowded cities’ inherent weakness to viral infection, particularly the sort of infections that make their hosts into auto-ambulatory, semi-sentient, predatory cannibals, cities are also highly reliant on imports, producing almost none of the basic requirements to maintain themselves on their own. Given a general collapse of civilization, and the arteries of fresh produce and products, these city centers would be left void as much by desertion, as by the zombie hordes. This will end life as we know it for metropolitan Europe, the United States East and West seaboard, China, India, densely packed islands like Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, much of Central America, as well as nations dense around major rivers, such as Egypt and much of the Middle East.


Temperate forested regions will be next. The heavy cover will prevent most efforts to guard against the lone zombie stalking through the woods. Survivors can easily face danger while fleeing in these thickets, unwittingly running from one threat, immediately into one much deadlier, hidden in the veil of green. The ability for a single zombie, or even a massive horde, to remain hidden only a few miles, or even a few hundred feet from population and strategic centers means that these areas may provide the illusion of a safe haven from fleeing urban refugees, but will soon visit upon these souls a grisly fate. Millions more who survived the initial infestation will find the dark embrace of eternal night within rustling of leaves. Most of the Eastern United States, what remained of Europe through to central Russia, as well as large and particularly populated regions of Asia and Australia.


Next are the grasslands. While more secure due to the wide openness and lack of a host population than cities, the major plains of the world provide little to no defensive advantage to those who live within them beyond sight. A lone zombie may creep across the plains, able to be put down by trained rangers, but the onset of a horde, will afford survivors no strategic advantage. The open terrain may provide time, but it will not provide safety. At some point, those who make it to the grasslands will be uprooted to survive the hordes. This interruption to daily life may recreate the nomadic lifestyle of the Native Americans and Bedouin peoples, but the quest to follow sources of food is much different than the quest to avoid becoming it. This won’t be a long term survival strategy. If annihilation is avoided from zombies, it will surely overtake them via starvation. If an external source of long term security isn’t met, these nomadic colonies of scavengers will not last indefinitely.

Gone would be the Central North American continent, large tracks of South America, All of Central Africa, the remainder of the Middle East through the Central Asian steppes, India, and Australia.


The tundra provides humans who live there the possibility of being aided by the environment. The intense cold will slow movement of the zombies allowing greater time for defense and culling operations to occur. The danger of the tundra is, however, as it has always been, the in-hospitality of its very nature. The intense cold makes life hard and food scare. No longer able to rely on imports, many of these regions will be worse off from the collapse of self sustaining civilization, than from the few half frozen dead that arrive at their doors. The world in the cold will return to a lifestyle it existed in 500 years ago. If people weren’t able to live then, they won’t be able to live without civilization today.


Once we reach the deserts do we start to experience regions where humans have the advantage. Like the plains the deserts offer large offer a wide area of security where it can be seen if one comes to a settlement. Unlike the plains, the desert itself serves as a weapon to the zombie. Arid heat will dry out the dead walker as shards of sand slowly grind the being to collapse. Once the dead have dried out, they will soon deteriorate to join the sand and the dust of the desert landscape.

It will be said that the desert populations that exist today won’t be able to survive as they do now. Some regions, such as Arizona and Saudi Arabia, have become food exporters through the importing of vast amounts of water, artificially pumped or funneled from far away or by draining their natural, and limited aquifers. These feats were only achieved through incredibly complex technological operations. With a collapse of society, these systems will collapse, as well. Assuming they survive the zombies, many won’t find survive the hunger, to say nothing of those who run out of water. Those that do may see a return to a Bedouin life of nomadic wandering, serving as the vital trade network keeping the last few desert environments surviving just above subsistence.


Jungles will fair well for those who can just plain survive in the jungle. The dense vegetation will make traversal by way of mindless dead nearly impossible. Fighting off deadly predictors, rot, or simply being swept away by floodwaters will see most of the dead plague disappear into the heavy growth. Even bugs will become the defenders of mankind in that environment. The jungle, however, proves just as much of a burden to defenders seeking to protect populations. In much the same way that human warfighters were defeated by the ravages of jungle living in World War II all the way to Vietnam, rangers set to defend regions from zombies will have to learn to survive in the jungle before they have to learn to survive the zombies. That said, like with the temperate forests, one wrong move could put you at odds with a dead man’s bite. Fortunately, these instances will be one off misfortunes, not the type of exponential collapses to society we see in other parts of the world.

Given that the jungle also provides a wealth of vegetation and even suitable cropland, small communes of villages could spread throughout the jungle terrains, providing sanctuary for millions of people. Rather, millions of survivors. We may see hardy bands of villages reform all across the equator as humans cower in the jungles. Places like the Gold Coast of Africa into the Congo may see massive die offs once the cities are emptied, but their people may survive the apocalypse if enough of them find their way to the jungles. Northern Brazil and Southern Venezuela just the same. The jungles of Asia, including the Burmese, and those the Indonesian island chains are problems, there, they have such massive and dense populations (Burma is a country smaller than Ireland or Virginia, but with a population equal to Russia, and Indonesia is the third most populated nation on Earth) that they would face unimaginable carnage before anyone reaches a deep jungle haven. Even once they did, I’d imagine the undead saturation would matter far more than jungle rot, snakes, and giant spiders.


Mountains. Almost the best location to be will be those centered high in the mountains. Providing difficult terrain to navigate and highly defensible natural barriers, they will form virtual fortifications for those who dwell inside.

The only burden to those within the confines of the high altitudes will be food. Places like the United States state of Colorado, Europe’s Switzerland, or Asia’s Afghanistan may be highly weaponized populations and able to provide for their own security, but being that all of these exist as part of a globalized network of partnerships for goods and services, they will be without certain valuable, in some cases, live saving commodities. Without some access to large quantities of fresh food, either through subsistence or protected conclaves of agricultural, they will do little better than those who live in the tundra.


So, we’ve eliminated virtually any place on the planet from being somewhere where a nation might do well to survive the end. There is, however, one geographic type which provides those who live there the best set of strategic advantages to survive, both as a population, and without suffering the onslaught of the zombie horde. That would be the islands.

Islands, such as the island of Tristan (the world’s most remote island) can be miles, sometimes thousands of miles from the range of the walking dead… or anything else. Though the dead are dauntless in their trudge across the land, when water comes into play, they suffer the ravages of salt water corrosion, as well as the rotting effects of something saturated in water for days. Presuming a zombie even could walk across the bottom, or perhaps float to the shore, but it would likely dissolve in a matter of days, or be eaten by some unlucky dweller of the deep long before that. Given that, the horde of undead coincidentally all emerging from from the sea to overwhelm a lonely victim seems incredibly unlikely.

Islands also possess another advantage to their inhabitants, being a long field of view. Many islands in the sea are really just the peaks of massive underwater mountains, mountains which reach up above the water and sometimes, high into the sky. These mountains, as previously stated, offer a wide view. Seeing out miles and miles to the sea gives their inhabitants hours to prepare for what little may be able to come, where others living in places listed above, might have only minutes, or even seconds, to deal with a mountain of very, very bad things.

Last, and perhaps most important, many islands are sustainable by growing fruit and vegetables on their own. This means that those who survive, can afford to last a while, at least until plans can be made. Granted, most islands today sustain their large populations thanks to huge amounts of imports… so that’s going to be rough to get through, but a slow starvation of some isn’t the same as becoming food for others. That said, many islands are capable of self-sustainment, as they have been for generations before the dawn of modern shipping. Those that can make the transition, we will see them do well in the Age of the Undead.

Uncertain Future – Works Cited

Uncertain Future – About the Author

Thank you for reading, seriously. You’ve probably wondered why I would bother writing a 16,000 word essay on every terrible thing that could happen in the next twenty years.

That said, I wanted to write on this subject in particular, is a matter of background. I am a Marine, honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps in 2008. My primary military occupational specialty was Tactical Data Network Specialist and this was the role I carried on my first tour in Iraq in 2005 along with my second in 2007.

My job centered on building and maintaining the information network with which mission critical information and communications were carried out. Our responsibility was to ensure that that data network was secure from outside threats both physical and through our network. I maintained my base’s SIPRnet that is discussed over and over in the Manning case. We knew the information was critical, mission-important and not necessary for the general public at their malls. Below, you’ll see what were effectively my area of operations during 2005. Yeah, starting to see why I care so much about internet and military security so specifically now?

Since leaving active duty, I went to college and became a writer. It is through writing that my greatest achievements have been realized. I’ve met people I never thought I would and learned lessons I never would have imagined. In that time, I’ve focused on educating others about the military. From Iraq to what it was like and what it means to be a military veteran, there was so much that needed to be understood. In doing this, I’ve learned a great deal about the conflicts of our world and the dangers we face. Since growing to understand all of this, it’s been a personal mission of mine to explain all of this to as many as will listen. That said, it’s also been among the great joys of my life to build and be a part of a community dedicated to understanding the world, its dangers, and bravely pushing through to live in the world we all want so badly. That said, there is another reason why I have been writing so hard this last week.

A few months ago, my wife peed on a stick and now my life is going to change forever.

This is my daughter Gabi and in July we look forward to introducing her to all of you. Nevermind the blue bear, trust me there was some confusion. That said, because I am about to be a dad, this could be one of my last posts like this where I get to drive my focus towards a single massive project, eating away my time for the benefit of others. A good dad has to provide a future and sharing knowledge pro bono, while an endless source of self-fulfillment, doesn’t give Alex the life I want him to have. I’ve been very lucky where I work to be able give time to my second profession. Where do I work? I’m a teaching paraprofessional in Oklahoma. I work with the kids at our school who make bad choices. In my room they mentorship and discipline, learning to write essays and pick up trash in the way only an obsessive compulsive Marine writer could make them.

That said, being a teacher, let alone a paraprofessional teacher, isn’t all that great. The benefits don’t provide much, and the pay is terrible. According to the Washington Post, Oklahoma ranks 48th this year in Teacher Pay at about $44,000 a year [84]. Yeah, and as a para… I can expect about a quarter of that. Did I mention that my wife is also a teacher? If you would like to know what it is like for our house take a look at the title of this little gem: Superintendent: Budget Cuts ‘Worst Financial Crisis To OK Schools In Decades’.

That said, the last real chance for me to keep writing projects like this is to appeal to people like you. Over the last year and a half, I have been submitting my work through the crowdsourcing website Patreon. If you follow me, you’ve probably seen my little at the bottom asking you to pledge to my campaign. My supporters have literally changed my life and allowed me to do projects I never would have imagined, all the way up to the point where I was finally able to write my own book The Next Warrior. Still, if want to give my son the life I really want, I need more. That’s why I’m going full mercenary, and writing one of my longest answers ever, just to get your attention. If you really like my submissions, I really need your help.

This is a link to my Patreon Support Page: Jon Davis is creating A Military Sci-Fi Novel, Articles, and Essays. Here you can pledge any amount you like and every time I submit an article, post, or chapter to one of my books, you’ll donate that amount to the Jonathan Alexander Davis College Fund and/or Leaky Roof Trust. There is also a monthly maximum that you can elect to make, so you don’t have to worry about me writing fifty articles at a time. The only ones that make Patreon are big articles… kind of like this one.

By supporting me, you also support others. 20% of my donations go to other Patreon users as well, namely other veterans like me. So a donation to me helps others veteran artists as they grow, cope, and share their own experiences with the rest of the world. So once again here’s that link: (PS – Baby/Veteran/Poor Teacher – needs your help) Jon Davis is creating A Military Sci-Fi Novel, Articles, and Essays.

That said, If you’re reading this far, I’m sure you’ve already upvoted, by the way (cough). All kidding aside and with deepest sincerity, I enjoyed every minute of the research and writing that went into it, and hope each and every one of you enjoyed it too. Thank you for reading and sharing.

Semper Fidelis,

Jon Davis

Uncertain Future – Part XV – The Black Swan

The last leg of this answer to, “What are the biggest ways in which the world 20 years from now will probably be different from today?” is the Black Swan.

Black Swan events, as defined by the guy who proposed their theory are thus:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  3. The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.

This is the stuff no one saw coming that will, more or less, invalidate every prediction we have had so far. They are the agents of chaos, and the disorder in ordered states. They are events which cannot be predicted with ease, never predicted together, and barely explained even in hindsight, but which have monumental effects on the hereafter. They are the surprises God throws at us that both level and unlevel the playing fields as industries rise up out of nowhere, nations fall into memory, and cities crumble as the earth shakes. Consider technology, the surprise we all see coming, but no one guesses quite right. Technology is still growing at an exponential pace. Every day it continues to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and how we conduct business. The rise of social media, perhaps the most unexpected event of the last ten years, and the rise of cellular communications in general over the last twenty certainly fits the ticket. Unfortunately, as technology has become a tool which has empowered literally billions of people into a better, more enlightened and more productive life, so too has it empowered millions of others to pursue their own interests at the detriment of everyone else. Twitter, something that was only founded exactly 10 years to this month helped spur revolution in states like Libya and Syria. Of course, now it also serves as a recruiting tool for Islamic State radicals. Drones, the weapons that were only in their infancy during my first deployment to Iraq, are now toys for children and delivery tools for Amazon. Of course, they too have a dark side which many, many already fear.

For that reason, from Swarm of Things to Human Augmentation, Crowd-sourcing to Autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing to Genetic Engineering, the brave new world we are all ready to embrace will empower those of ill-aims so greatly that only an equally aggressive improvement in the means by which we secure our safety, both bodily and the information about us, will ensure the dream of tomorrow the builder’s of this technology wish to provide today.

Beyond technology, Black Swans are the wills of billions of people; competing, converging, colliding. Nearly all you will never meet, but a few of which, will shape your future.

A Black Swan is former fighter of the Soviet Union, setting his sights on his former ally. [83]

Black Swans are are planes filled with people crashing into buildings on a clear day in September, and from the visceral reaction, war in two nations erupts.

As those wars drug on, the Black Swan was an angry and deeply confused young Army private, with a desire to punish the world. He let slip the largest stockpile of military secrets in history. Some were secrets of the United States, but more importantly was what we had learned of everyone else.

In the aftermath, a Black Swan was a wave of democratic energy and revolution. Spurred by the leaks, and the revelations about their dictators, millions went to the streets demanding reform.

Amidst the cheering, the sounds of bullets rang out and three civil wars began.

In the void that arose, one of these saw the Blackest of Swans, a resurrected medieval empire of hate rising from the desert sands to engulf and overwhelm the Levant.

In the terror it brought millions set to flight, many overwhelming Europe.

And terror following them in.

Those of us alive in 1996 remember that time before the towers fell and not a single one could have predicted any of this. Then we lived in a world of plenty where we were all still cheering the fall of the last evil empire which crumbled when its reach was greater than its capabilities. We were building relationships and the world was going closer together. “They were simpler times,” is something old ones always say of when they were young, but looking back to the last two decades, do we not all feel old now? Who, in their most honest self could have predicted any of the events of chaos which bears fruit only to more chaos like it? Who standing back before would have suspected a future like we have seen in his next 20 years?

What we can be sure of is that not everything will turn out as we hope. Change will come, but not like we expect. We can’t turn away from it. It’s coming whether we like it or not. And as soon as think we have it all figured out, a black swan will swoop down to remind us how little foresight we had. This post isn’t meant to scare or to paint a dark cloud on the future because of a few of the nightmares that exist today. It is simply a reminder that the unexpected is a factor, and that running from it, or being afraid of it, we need to prepare for it. The best we can do is prepare. Learn the threats that exist today and prepare as best we can so that when change come, we… you, me, us, are able to embrace it. Only those who build their houses on solid rock will weather the coming storms or terror, hacking, disasters, cyberware, and the dark abyss of humanity behind a mask of anonymity and a jihadist’s mask. Don’t be afraid. I’m sure, exactly because of all the answers which existed to this question, that the world of tomorrow will be as a utopia to the one I live in today, but only if we are collectively prepared for the changes utopia brings along the way. That’s why, above all else, those who look to their own security, their adaptability, and their capacity to embrace change and endure disruption… they will be the x factor in the next 20 years.

Uncertain Futures – XIV – The Destabilizing Power of Technology

3D printing is going to be a universal game changer.

The above is a schematic for a weapon of the future. A gun anyone can print at home with parts printed in a 3D printer. While this is a step back in the actual technology of the gun as far as reliability, accuracy, durability, and safety for the end user, once the means to “print” a gun becomes ubiquitous, it is going to be a real democratizing force.

While I know many people are going to think about the United States when the topic of gun violence comes up, the US actually won’t be where the real story is. Here, we have a system built around the assumption that guns are readily available and have built a society around this fact that attempts to allow responsible gun use without forbidding it outright.

In other parts of the world, where guns of any sort are criminalized, they have no means to prevent the sudden appearance of massive amounts of undocumented and unregistered firearms. Where many people live under harsh government rule, and also have no rights to gun ownership, this could be a lethal combination. Consider China, where 93% of the people have no democratic representation because they do not qualify for the “high standards” of the Chinese Communist Party. At a time when 3D printing might already upset the economy there, the sudden appearance of so many weapons could plausibly result in the end of a regime. Consider also the case of the Middle East. Actually, I’m just going to let you imagine that yourselves, considering that the Arab Spring happened just because all these people had access to Twitter. Syria and Libya showed us how far some people are willing to follow that through… and those conflicts are having repercussions across the globe. Seriously consider the implications of universal access to weaponry, which if all the 3D printing evangelicals are declaring is true… is exactly what will happen.

I’m just going to be honest about this, a lot of people are going to die. The numbers are going to be so staggering that the current gun debate in the US is going to seem like a cruel joke. I don’t really know how to stop this once 3D printing technology becomes more universal, but the truth is that it is something that should be considered in any long term questions about the future of the technology. No one expected Twitter to be a force for international upheaval, but it became so. 3D printing is opening a lot of doors for amazing new things, but once weaponry via such a medium becomes commonplace, much of the world is going to change.

I will say this, as threatening as this posts appears, I am optimistic in the long run. While I think that many, many terribly undemocratic regimes are going to be challenged, some overthrown, I think that 50 years out from now, the democratic nature of a universally armed populace is going to have a massive effect towards the propagation of civil liberties among the the bottom billion. Once they are provided with the ultimate liberty, the respect of their leaders, they will be empowered like nothing we have produced for them before.

I don’t imagine a dystopian future where everyone has a gun and is murdering everyone else. There are more guns than Americans in the United States. Despite this fact and what the news reads, most of us have never experienced gun violence in spite of unknowingly passing hundreds every day with concealed carry licenses. I don’t imagine a utopia either. There will be gun violence. If mental health is not considered an important factor in gun ownership debate for the rest of the world as it currently isn’t in the United States, they will face the same staggering gun suicide rates that we do, and they will experience the same shooting sprees that dot our headlines periodically. Either way, the United States needs to lead the world in how we solve gun rights issues because soon, every single person in the world could be armed with a gun they made in their garage.


On the Future of Ammunition and the 3D printed Gun

Numerous people have made comments about a perceived failure of what I am trying to explain. The most logical of these arguments centers around the problem of ammunition, so I’ll give it special attention as I try to address some of the others.

I’ll give credit to those who thought far enough ahead to realize that ammunition is going to be a major choke point in the arming of any population, be it national militaries, or a collection of free individuals. The way we think about ammunition today would not work for a system where 3D printed guns are made illegal. Even the one pictured at the beginning of this post would not be able to work without some form of continual ammunition source. However, what many need to understand about ammunition is that it isn’t as rare as most of us think… or even, in the case of 3D printed weapons, as necessary.

I want it to be clear, we aren’t talking about making every piece of a weapon, from the barrel, trigger, and down to the ammo, from a 3D printer just for the sake of saying we did with some novel technology. That scenario is so specific that it also is impractical. The revolution in the dynamics of humanity’s relationship between itself and the gun will change because the hardest parts of weapon acquisition will be made easier through the use of these new machines and processes. We are talking about overcoming barriers and getting around the traditional, well established means by which most defense and security assumptions are made. To help illuminate this, the general populous and well established industries, and nations don’t specialize in this sort of grand thinking. This is the specialty of terrorists, insurgents, and anyone who views their survival tied to the use of unconventional warfare as a means of overcoming the grand and deeply entrenched mechanisms in place by the stabilized and powerful forces they compete with. For these people, the need to create a weapon system, from beginning to end through some novel form, isn’t necessary. What is necessary, to them, is a means to overcome an the few obstacles which exist that narrows their wider ability to compete, in this case, the banning of factory line weapons. After the logistical choke point can be overcome, in this case with the production of an untraceable weapon, then we will start to see the hidden potential of these clandestine/revolutionary/terrorist/black market actors have had available all along, but thus far ignored because they didn’t have the key resources available to act on them. One these key resources after the creation of a gun supply will be ammunition, but this can be produced via other processes, all of which are already well documented, and well known, if you only know where to look.

1) Ammunition isn’t as rare as you think.

My father-in-law was an avid shooter. Like me, he didn’t come from wealthy stock, so to support our mutual love of the sport, he introduced me to the fact that it was easy to make bullets at home. I was, at the time, under the belief that the only place to get ammo was a store, so finding out that it was possible to make it at home was a revolutionary concept for me. Not only for me, but for what that means in the way of insurgency warfare, a topic I’ve written about often given my history as a Marine deployed the Iraq War.

Guides to making bullet cartridges are available throughout the internet. While you may not be able to 3D print these, there really isn’t a need to reinvent the wheel when the means to just build it are so readily available across the internet. – How To Make Your Own Bullets Today. Usually, the only logistical choke point involved here is the creation of the metal cartridges used to store the primers and propellant. Having said that, there is an abundance of knowledge on even the homemade creation of these with none too rare supplies available to the average machinist.

I’ve even seen another video that clearly demonstrates how to create a complete working bullet, at least functionally speaking, out of everyday household items that would be economically impossible for any government to outlaw.

Granted, anyone who watched carefully will note that the weapon produced was not lethal to the extent that a modern military grade rifle is, but I’m using it as a proof of concept in the point that ammunition is not the rare commodity that many people seem to be basing their long term national security on. It is also important to know that when people are creating ammunition stores in their own homes, quality controls won’t produce the kind of reliability that one could expect from respected ammunition manufactures, such as those used by the military or major distributors of guns and ammunition. That said, these kinds of “cook houses” aren’t uncommon in any black market/insurgent enterprise. A simple house in the middle of the desert could be converted into an ammunition factory  with five guys pushing out a thousand rounds a day. I’ll use the example of Palestinian terrorists. It would be not unlike how the Qassam rocket is produced to aid Palestinian terrorists.

In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.

Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?

These individuals have created entire missile factories inside their homes for the purposes of shelling Israeli cities. Similar sites also existed in Iraq, as well. They are able to use mostly scrap, publically available legal chemical products, and some rough designs to allow good engineers to train moderate to mediocre engineers in the art of building these projectiles. In this way, a modern missile has been in the hands of terrorists for many years in various parts of the Middle East.

That is, if you even need to produce the ammunition. Kyle Murao earned a research award for his summary of a report put out on where groups like Syria get most of their ammunition. The results were shocking by some accounts.

…here’s the short answer to the question [of where does the Islamic State get its Ammunition]: Everywhere. China. The USSR/Russia. The US. Eastern Europe. North Korea. The Sudan. Iran. All told, of 1,730 identifiable new and expended small-arms cartridges, CAR identified the markings of manufacturers in 21 different countries all over the world.

Source: Conflict Armament Research. “Analysis of small-calibre ammunition recovered from Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria”

What the report showed was there was still a healthy black market for ammunition, readily flowing across the world from any location to virtually any other location on the map. Given that premise, I don’t really see why we need to ask the question of where an insurgency force would need to look to get ammunition. As Murao put it well… everywhere.

Where is ISIL getting their ammunition?

2) Is that even a gun?

The thing that I think many people are having problems with is the lack of understanding about what 3D printing is going to mean. Some comments have said that the weapons are limited by the limitations of plastic guns, being mainly, that they aren’t durable and their fire isn’t reliable over time. This is true, but the statement comes with a belief that the printers will only work with plastic, or that they will only be basic copies of designs made today. Both of these assumptions have already been proven false.

Firstly, the limitations of material use are nowhere near being fully explored, while the current generation is mostly creating products through plastics, metals have also been used, and even biological and organic materials. That is to say, even organs made of living cells have been made through printing.

The point of explaining this is to say the 3D printed materials are going to have ridiculous properties that defy many of our common understandings of how things can be made. Most people say that with optimism, but as this post should show, that too can be a very frightening concept. To make my point even more clear, the world’s first metal 3D printed gun has already been made. The world’s first 3D printed metal gun is a beautiful .45 caliber M1911 pistol | ExtremeTech

Now, consider modern forging of weapons. The entire weapon’s metal components are cast from a single alloy and set. What, however, would be the properties of a barrel made millimeter by millimeter, from the inside to the outside? Could one not create a weapon of many varying alloys, layered to combine the properties of several metals throughout the length of the weapon in a way that traditional metal casting never could? What if a coil of copper could be set in during the curing process, producing a magnetic current as the bullet passed through the barrel, either slowing down or speeding it up before escaping the weapon? Consider pockets of a different material homogeneously interwoven throughout the weapon that had the property of absorbing the vibration of the weapon. This would have the effect of both reducing the need for a large buffer spring and completely eliminating the need for a silencer without slowing down the round as silencers do. That’s a weapon design that would be a major upgrade for both snipers and assassins.  I’m not saying that any of these particular ideas would work. I’m not a physicist, so my ideas might explode the weapon and kill the user, but once we get away from the idea of the cast-metal weapon, someone will create new designs that will fundamentally alter the way we see the material that these weapons are made of.

To complete my point on the strange properties that 3D will offer, I’d like to talk about another novel weapon system that just didn’t work out. Below is the Metal Storm system.

The Metal Storm is weird. That’s all that can be said about it. It is a weird gun. Here’s a description:

Metal Storm used the concept of superposed load; multiple projectiles loaded nose to tail in a single gun barrel with propellant packed between them. The Roman candle, a traditional firework design, employs the same basic concept, however, thepropellant continues to burn in the Roman candle’s barrel, igniting the charge behind the subsequent projectile. The process is repeated by each charge in turn, ensuring that all projectiles in the barrel are discharged sequentially from the single ignition. Various methods of separately firing each propellant package behind stacked projectiles have been proposed which would allow a “single shot” capability more suitable to firearms.[3]

What is unique about the Metal Storm is that it has no ammo magazine. Even more weird is that it has almost none of the parts we traditionally associate with a gun. The magazine and the barrel are basically the same thing. It also fires using magnetically charged rounds. Because they cut out almost everything that we believe makes a gun a gun, they were able to do something remarkable. While the average infantrymen armed with an M-4 could maybe pull off 100 rounds a minute accurately, and the most advanced machine gun in the US arsenal is capable of 6,000 rounds a minute… the Metal Storm system is capable of firing at a speed of over 1 million rounds a minute. That’s ludicrous.

Now, I want to be clear, the Metal Storm isn’t 3D printed, and the company behind it had flaws, along with the practicality behind the idea of who really needs to fire 1 million rounds a minute to the point that the company had to shut down. The Metal Storm as a case study, however, shows us one remarkable thing. Guns aren’t what we think they are. By eliminating everything but the bullet and the barrel, Metal Storm created a remarkably lethal weapon system that made people ask, “Is that even a gun?” The damage the system inflicted on practice targets made it clear that it was. 3D printers will do the same, or to be more precise, the revolutionary new ways in which 3D printers will allow people to create materials, will change the way we see everything about the gun, including the ammunition it fires.

Closing

3D printers are the future of small arms. They will be something that will empower people that currently have none. Many of these people shouldn’t have it. Of course there will be people who will use these weapons for harming other people who are good. Eventually though, this just simply won’t be something we can control.

I think that many people have a problem with idea of guns becoming so universal. They fear their country may become the Wild West that they believe the United States to be. One commentator even offered the opinion that:

For every smart, good person, good citizen that gets a gun to do good, there are hundreds of crazy, unbalanced, criminal and ill intentionned [sic.] people that will get their hands on guns. Having guns being so available will only make situations more dangerous.

While I’m not making a moral judgement here, I respond that this thinking is fundamentally, and absolutely wrong. There are over 300,000,000 guns in the United States. Assuming that a gun owner owns three, that’s still one hundred million gun owners. This means that if this idea were true (hundreds of crazy, unbalanced, criminal and ill intentioned) there would be hundreds of millions if not tens of billions of people running amok on killing sprees and committing violence. This math, and this assumption, simply do not add in the real world.

In fact, the opposite is true. For every one person who does something wrong, there are thousands who use guns responsibly. This response seems to be implying, that banning guns is the only rational way to solve the problem, but this only punishes the good while the bad won’t follow the law anyway.

Having said that, I want to talk about tyrants and oppressive regimes. Another person made the comment that a modern military, such as China, could never be threatened by plastic small arms distribution among the general populace. In fact, they said it was absurd.

“If anything, technology has swung the balance of power toward the tyrants.  Consider this; What is the larger potential factor, 3D printers, or drones?”

This imbalance of power is the reason for the American 2nd Amendment. It is an attempt to create a large and reasonably well armed populace to ensure that a nation’s government respects its citizens enough to remember that the government is in service to, not in ownership of, its people. This is the reasoning for the statement of the democratizing power of the 3D printed gun. To echo others, “God did not make men equal. Sam Colt did.” To this last point, asking which is the more important, Drones, or 3D guns, I’d like to remind readers that throughout the Iraq War, the Americans were armed with the world’s greatest technology, including drones and more powerful guns than any others in the world. The Americans were repeatedly put against the ropes not by a force equal to us in either size or armament, but by unconventional means, like a well armed populace, unconventional uses for conventional weapons, and media interference. One needs to consider what kind of force held a collation of the most modern militaries in the world at bay in Iraq (remember that I was there) and ask again what people with limited means can do against superpowers. Tech does not, as it never has, guarantee victory.

This isn’t really relevant here, though, since we aren’t arguing about the strength of 3D guns versus the power of drone warfare. The question is what is the next leap in small arms technology. Drones aren’t the future of warfare, they are happening now. They are here already. The next generation of them will be amazing to witness, but we are already aware that. That’s why I said that 3D printing was the next leap forward. However, 3D printing could open the door towards new people getting access to drones, but I digress.

Now consider the statement about a drone empowering a tyrant. Consider a tyrant who bans the use of guns and sits behind a wall of automated soldiers. Their defenses are impossibly strong against any uprising that has ever happened. They have firm control over all imports and know exactly what is coming in and going out of the country. This makes their regime feel very comfortable in their seat of power, perhaps too comfortable. Security lapses and then something terrible happens.

I stumbled on this a while back and it has always helped to give me perspective on just how fragile our security can be.

Frankly, two small bullets killed over 100,000,000 million people because tensions became too great, regimes became too oppressive and a very few people had the means to act where very powerful people became careless and too comfortable. This event changed the world in ways so profound we can’t picture what it would be like without having him killed. My concern is that a world that has framed themselves around the belief that there is one and only one right answer being that all guns should be removed from all people, will not be prepared for a time when they can’t control a time where they are universal.

This is why I say the United States needs to lead the world in how we solve gun rights issues. As I have said, we are a population that already has as many guns as people, and we aren’t a small nation. We are extremely large, but also extremely diverse. Diversity spawns new ideas, but it also causes great tension. Given this dynamic and the freedoms we do still enjoy, we are the only metric with which the world will be able to gauge themselves once firearms become universal. I’m not saying that the United States is morally superior to places like Europe. They have had a history that allowed them to live without guns for a while, but the United States is the only country that sought to find a solution that involved their existence. For that reason, we will be who the world looks to in how they will deal with that future reality, as well. This is why we need to come to work to solve it here and now, as the American solution will echo throughout the 21st century.

To be honest, I’m not saying whether this future is ethically right or wrong. I’m just saying it is going to happen, and that we need to deal with its implications, or learn at least, how to cope with them.

Uncertain Future – XIII – Drones

Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?

Absolutely.

I was doing research for a book I am writing on the future of war, and I explored this topic. Since using drones to commit terrorist actions hasn’t really been a thing yet, (Criminals yes. Terrorists, not quite) I decided my best place to research would be to drive down to a local remote controlled hobby shop near where I used to live and just ask a few questions. I had to introduce myself as an old Marine and Sci-Fiction writer before asking any of my other questions, because leading off with, “I’m interested in knowing how I could make a flying bomb.” would have probably not gone over so well. What the guy said amazed and terrified me, more so, his assistant who quickly developed a new respect for his nerdy boss.

What the conversation left me with was a firm understanding that terror drones will be a part of the future of warfare that the military is, unfortunately, going to have just as many problems with as we give to the bad guys. Here are a few of the key take aways that I have developed from the conversation with my friend at the hobby shop and my own experiences in Iraq fighting a counter-insurgency war.

We are taking about VBIEDs – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices which, during my day, meant car bombs that were either parked or driven to places where they were used. In the future, we might start seeing these things in the air. A few things need to be kept in mind though when thinking about VBIEDs or IEDs of any kind.

1) Payload

The most important element for a terrorist weapon is the devastation it can inflict. During the Iraq War, that devastation was massive. That’s because the terrorists had access for much of the war to unused artillery rounds taken from Saddam’s Iraqi Army after the fall of his regime.

I’ve seen more Humvees leveled by these things than I care to remember. They are seriously massive communicators of destruction, but also, serious limiters of capabilities if we are talking about drones.  Those things weigh around 40 to 80 lbs. Yes, it would be terrifying if one of those dropped from the sky (they are artillery shells after all), but there is no practical way for most drones available today that are terrorists (I’ll get to that in a minute) to carry something like that. Take Amazon’s plan to start droning things all over major cities. They are limited by weight because those adorable little propellers are not going to be able to carry something as massive as an IKEA bookshelf (between 40 to 80 lbs).

That means that the weapons are going to have to evolve, or at least become more potent. They aren’t going to be able to carry massive bombs capable of doling out huge earth shattering explosions. They are going to need to carry smaller explosives. That doesn’t mean they will be less deadly. No, in the future it might be possible to load up pipe bombs, smaller IEDs, loaded with shrapnel in the form of screws, bolts, nails. This weapon doesn’t level buildings or destroy armored vehicles like the above option did, but it has the ability to brutally maim people who are close enough to the blast, making them visual advocates and symbols for the depravity of the terrorists for years to come. Drones carrying these could fly it directly into a crowded restaurant, through the window of a politician’s office, or even over the stands of a crowd at a sports stadium.

2) Cost

Cost is king for weapons manufacturing, as with anything. Terrorists aren’t going to have the multimillion funds that first world nations do to produce highly sophisticated weapons like the Reaper or Global Hawk drones used by the Americans, nor will they have their $80,000 Hellfire missile. Terrorists run on shoestring budgets and they’ve done quite well at it.

Part of my conversation with the hobby shop guy dealt with cost. I had a design for a terror drone and he made me realize just how bad an idea it might be. For example, for the situation above that required a pipe bomb in a stadium, you would need at least a few thousand dollars to make such a weapon. That sounds like nothing compared to the costs of creating the F-35 Strike Fighter, but when you think about the volume that terrorists need to create the terror effect they desire, those costs are extremely prohibitive. Take the below for example. These are estimates on the number of rocket attacks which were delivered from the Hamas terrorist organization.

It can be a lot. Below is Iraq. Terrorists are featured in red.

As I said, when you deal with high volume operations, unit costs can be prohibitive. In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.

But to produce a drone, like what we think of as drones that can carry the kinds of warheads we are talking about will be much more. Some tech analysts have stated that the Prime Air drone (Amazon) could run as much as $50,000 a piece to deliver a 5 lbs “package” to anywhere within 10 miles (in under 30 minutes though!). That is way too much for a sensible terrorist to ever consider paying, especially when you consider that if those things are near enough to the ground, they are getting shot down by everything from surface to air missiles to slingshots.

What my colleague instead suggested would be something akin to balsa wood gliders. Balsa wood is an incredibly light and cheap material used for toy planes and RC hobbyists. Taken from the hands of children and old men, though, these tools could be used to some devastating effect. They are made of cheap materials which are widely available. You can even buy them in kits. Once they reach altitude, they don’t have to use the engine for guidance and can glide silently to their terminal destination. And lastly, they are small, made of light materials, and slow moving. I am not an expert on radar, but that scary. It sort of sounds like a large bird.

I’ll provide this as a proof of concept. Note that the vast majority of the cost of this plane goes into its aesthetics and ensuring it can be recovered, both unnecessary for a suicide drone. It’s also important to know that the RC – Remote Controlled – element isn’t necessary. All flight paths can be programmed into modern systems.

3) Complexity

One of the things that has prevented more people from suffering the threat of terrorism is the complexity involved in various systems. Bombs are pretty complicated to build and not just anyone can make one. Since, historically, terrorists have had two main pools of recruiting to choose from, fanatics and the unemployed, rocket scientists have not been easy for the average terrorist leader to come by. Most of the time, a few key bomb masters, such as an Algerian chemistry student who joined against the French forces in the Algerian War, are the leaders of the munitions manufacturing process. When they are killed, they take with them large amounts of the enemy’s capability to do harm. If they don’t leave quality apprentices, then the movement may have been ended with the death of only one man. Usually, those individuals who carry on in the master’s footsteps are less capable in most regards.

Take colloquially, the example of Jesse Pinkman.

In the show Breaking Bad, a brilliant chemist, Walter White teams up with scumbag degenerate methhead Jessie Pinkman in a scheme to cook meth. In the early part of the show, it is comical to see how inept Jessie actually is at the science of cooking. Walter bestows his knowledge and by the time that the series ends, Jessie is an expert of cooking meth as good as Walter is.

There is a point to be made here, though. Even at the end of the show, Jessie isn’t as good at cooking than his teacher Walter. Even after a year of intensive training, he is only an expert of cooking Walter’s way. He will forever lack Walter’s expertise in the science of chemistry, which would allow Walter to produce many, many other kinds of recipes, most completely harmless or beneficial to humanity, if he chose. Jessie may know the way he was taught, but could never produce alternative products or where he wasn’t allowed to use quality materials and processes similar to his teacher’s. He can’t improvise like Walter could.

Wow, that was tangential example, but it serves the point that complexity in operations is an extremely limiting factor. You take the few evil geniuses out, then their apprentices are left without the ability to improvise on parts, resources, implementation, or usage because they came into the act of making bombs as a terrorist who only cares about killing and not as a lifelong scientist who then joined a terrorist operation.

Now let’s take that bomb and stick it in a drone. The first obvious problem is that you are going to need people who can build and service drones, something very few people know how to do yet. The information is out there and growing in the RC communities, but it still isn’t a respected art form in the terrorist world. So let’s say we take out a few of the engineers who know how to make the birds fly. That will be a setback for them. Let’s say instead, we take out the guy who knows how to program them on their automated missions. That’s a major setback. Let’s say we take out the guy who knows how to build the warheads. That’s a huge setback because now the other two are demoted down to nerdy RC enthusiasts. Now, let’s say that they have all these geniuses rolled up into one. How replaceable is that guy? How long before he can pass off what he knows? How hard would it be to disrupt the communication networks he possesses? How devastating would killing that one guy  be? Would his people be able to adapt?

Depending on the complexity, not often, but in some cases, yeah. In the case of the Amazon Death Drone, no. What happens if the terrorists are cut off from making the engines that powers the propellers? What happens if the application they use to pilot the drone is brought down? What if the chemical they use to either fuel the thing or build the bombs gets internationally outlawed or embargoed? As I said, will they be able to adapt, or a better question, how many compromises will these people be able to make before the weapon is no longer lethal?

The fact is, terrorists have to keep weapons system as simple as possible or they can’t replicate their processes. For a terrorist organization to work, it can’t revolve around the genius of a few masterminds. It needs to be weapons that can be produced by many people, even those with very little education. Pinkman could keep a drone program up for a while, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to circumstances and changes in the environment in the way that Walter White would.

Sorry, I spent way too long making that point. There are, however, alternatives that are simpler than what we normally think of as drones. These methods already have abundant supplies and designs in existence for the would be terrorist to experiment with and provide the flexibility he needs to do terrible things. The hobby shop guy I talked to was really adamant about the balsa wood, enough I realized he’s thought of this before.

What do I see happening?

I hypothesize for my story that weapons like the one pictured above, (yep) may be loaded with apps created with the purpose of using GPS enabled phones to autonomously steer planes like this. Being that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, isactually funding efforts to make software programming something that is super simple for everyone, this feat might actually not be as complex as think. Thanks DARPA. Once in flight these planes, perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece up to the point, might be capable of being loaded with small pipe bombs or, more practically, napalm. Napalm is any chemical that has two qualities, it is very sticky and it will burn a long time. Napalm is also extremely cheap, made from readily available materials anywhere, and easy to use. There are even recipes all over the internet that will make you sad about humanity. Being that the plane itself becomes part of the warhead using napalm, it will literally be a weapon raining fire from the sky. En masse, that can be a weapon that is devastating, cheap, and easy to use.

Oh, and if you were keeping track, the military definition for this is a cruise missile, but thanks to the advances in modern military technology, available to just about anyone for only $500. Enjoy the future.